A note on retaining our allies…

smartly discrediting Islamophobia
Ninjabi comics: smartly discrediting Islamophobia

Recently, I’ve covered two stories that have rightly raised alarm – not just among Muslims, but among concerned non-Muslims as well.

In this entry, I provided several links to breaking news from the Muslim world. One of the stories was that of a young Muslim woman who had allegedly been attacked at her university. Safia Jilani, 19, claimed that a masked gunman had attacked her because she is a Muslim. Her account of being knocked unconscious in a restroom of course raised both concern and outrage. Officials put the campus on lockdown in order to conduct a thorough investigation. Campus police offered Muslim students the option of free rides and escorts if they felt unsafe navigating the campus alone. Hundreds of students held a demonstration in support of Ms. Jilani, and concerned bloggers spread the news quickly, calling for action on her behalf.

Then, police investigation determined that Ms. Jilani’s story had been fabricated – she had in fact not been attacked.

Another incident in question is the gassing of a mosque in Dayton, Ohio. It has been reported that perhaps this incident was fabricated as well.

Many non-Muslim Americans would readily acknowledge that, post-9/11, Muslims (and those thought to be one of us!) have been subject to Islamophobic backlash. Fueled by fear and often ignorance, some people have chosen to react to Muslims in negative ways – including with violence. (And good-old-fashioned capitalism). At the same time, many non-Muslims have been at the forefront of constructive initiatives to increase dialogue and understanding, including countering anti-Muslim sentiment in their communities. These allies aren’t just joining us in denouncing crimes against Muslims. They’re also risking ostracization within their own circles for doing what’s right. Don’t we owe them due respect by acting with integrity ourselves?

I mention the latest developments in these two cases not just to keep you updated – but also to caution our own against crying wolf.

If the blatantly Islamophobic, ridiculous and divisive campaign to convince us all that Barack Obama is a “stealth Muslim” out to “destroy Israel” and the American way of life tells us anything — it’s that what Muslims need is not just better representation in the public eye. We also need the help of reasonable non-Muslims who are willing to decry and combat this kind of absurdity. (Hey, Colin Powell – thanks! And Campbell Brown – shukran!)

The question becomes: can we expect our allies to continue taking risks for us when they find out about made-up cases of anti-Muslim violence? What could be more alienating to well-intentioned non-Muslims than pulling stunts involving tall tales of oppression? The truth is, anti-Muslim sentiment does exist. As do sexism, racism, and plenty of other “isms” ready to compromise a just society (not to mention ruin your day). Let’s not risk our cries falling on deaf ears, tired from stories like the above.

Do something constructive to combat discrimination: check out this organization’s**  work.

…and the ever-talented Suheir Hammad. She’s got the support of Muslims and non-Muslims by using art for change. (Listen to some of my other favorites by Suheir here and here.)

**(June 2011 update: this line once linked to the American-Arab anti-Discrimination Committee. Given recent revelations about the Committee, as well as additional information I’ve learned from trusted sources, I’m hesitant to continue linking to them until some pressing ethical questions can be answered.)